It's widely known that a diet high in salt causes high blood pressure, but new research suggests that reducing daily salt consumption by one teaspoon could also prevent millions of deaths from stroke and cardiovascular disease.
While the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends about one teaspoon of salt a day (5 g), the average daily consumption of salt in Western countries is more - about 10 g a day - and in Eastern Europe and in Asia it could be as high as 12 g, scientists say.
In a collaborative study by the University of Naples and the University of Warwick, researchers analyzed the results of 13 published studies involving over 170,000 people in the United States, Japan, Finland, the Netherlands, Scotland and Taiwan and assessed the relationship of daily salt consumption and rates of stroke and cardiovascular disease.
They found that a difference of one teaspoon (5 g) a day in habitual salt intake was associated with a 23 percent difference in the rate of stroke and a 17 percent difference in the rate of total cardiovascular disease. By reducing daily intake by 5 g, nearly 3 million deaths from cardiovascular disease and 1.25 million deaths from stroke could be prevented each year, the researchers said.
Their findings could also prompt recommendations to governments to change recommended targets (many are still 6 g) as well as to the food industry to further regulate the salt added to its products:
"For population salt intake to approach the recommended targets within a reasonable time-frame, an upstream approach is now necessary alongside the traditional downstream public health approach based on health promotion and behavioural changes," the researchers wrote.
The report was published online November 24 in the British Medical Journal.